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Ogletree Lawyer Must Arbitrate Sex Bias Claims, Firm Says

Jan. 23, 2019, 6:24 PM

An attorney who sued accusing Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. of systemic pay and other bias against female shareholders must pursue her claims individually in arbitration, the firm told a federal judge Jan. 22.

Knepper sued the firm in January 2018 on behalf of herself and a proposed class of all similarly situated female nonequity shareholders. Class members were denied equal pay, promotions, and other job opportunities because of their sex, Knepper alleged.

The lawsuit seeks $300 million in damages.

Knepper filed in federal court in San Francisco. That judge held that Knepper, an “experienced employment-law litigator,” was bound by the firm’s “opt-out” employee arbitration agreement, Ogletree said. The San Francisco court transferred the case to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Central District includes Orange County, where Knepper worked for the firm, it says.

Ogletree’s abritratrion agreement “plainly covers all of these claims,” and class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable, it says.

It should be left up to the arbitrator to decide if Knepper can add three other female former shareholders to her case, the firm says. California federal court isn’t the proper venue for their claims, as one worked for Ogletree in Texas and the other two in Colorado, it says.

Knepper’s claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act aren’t subject to the class-action waiver and should be stayed while she arbitrates her other claims, Ogletree says.

The Central District also isn’t the right forum for claims by another former California shareholder, the firm says. That shareholder also is bound by the arbitration agreement and must arbitrate in or near San Diego, where she worked, Ogletree says.

Paul Hastings LLP represents Ogletree. Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP represents Knepper.

The case is Knepper v. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., C.D. Cal., No. 8:19-cv-00060, motion to compel arbitration 1/22/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com